And here is another …

… interview with Carmen Ebner about her PhD thesis, which she successfully defended on Tuesday, this time in the Leiden University weekly Mare. The interview is even announced as a feature article on the front page.

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Interview with Carmen Ebner

Carmen was interviewed on her PhD study on the eve of the defence itself. Read all about it in Kennislink and wish her luck for tomorrow!

(Thanks for the translation, Adrian!)

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New interface for oldest (?) language advice website

Common Errors in English is a website that has been up and running since March 1997, as its maker, Paul Brians, told me. Does that make it the oldest language advice website that has been about? Quite possibly It has also been up for twenty years this year, and has just been given beautiful a new interface.

It was given this new interface (an 18-month job no less!) not because Paul asked for it, or as a twentieth birthday present, but because it was recognised that it was “by far the most popular academic area on the entire university Web system”, as Paul emailed. Washington State University, well done to give recognition to the importance of language advice on the web!

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Language myths – who cares?

I’m reading (partly re-reading) the book Language Myths, edited by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill, published in 1998. It includes 21 pieces by well-known linguists such as James and Lesley Milroy, Jenny Cheshire, Dennis Preston, John Algeo (apologies to the others for not mentioning them as well), who one after the other set out to debunk long-standing myths such as “French is a logical language”  (Anthony Lodge) and “Women talk too much” (Janet Holmes).

The Introduction reads that “linguists have not been good about informing the general public about language” (p. xv), and on the cover we can see a blurb by David Crystal (who did not write any of the pieces in the book) saying that the book is “Essential reading for anyone concerned with the nature of language”.

My question, while reading the book, is whether the book succeeded in “informing the general public” about these myths being without any grain of truth, in other words, whether they succeeded in killing the myths or whether, as is in their nature, the myths simply continue to be what they are. This has been my own experience when I tried to kill the myth that Lowth wrote his grammar as a bishop. I can usually tell if people did or did not read The Bishop’s Grammar (2011) by the way they refer to Lowth in their own subsequent publications.

My impression is that Language Myths is read only by linguists, for why should the general public want to be told that Italian is not beautiful (Howard Giles and Nancy Niedzielski) or that bad grammar is not slovenly (Lesley Milroy) when this is how they it? Why should the general public want to listen to linguists? Recently, I had a discussion with someone about the “new” use of singular they as believed to be advocated by LGTB activists. My telling her that singular they has been around since the age of Chaucer fell on deaf ears. And why should it have done otherwise since it is something she finds she is bothered by? So shouldn’t linguists, instead of “informing the general public about language” engage into a discussion with the general public about why they feel the way they do about these thing? Talking with instead of at them, as the book seems to do?

So I thought: lets have another poll about this question. Please let me know what you think! I’d really like to know. (And please note that by the term linguist I don’t mean somebody who knows many languages!) Feel free to leave comments as well.

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Just out: Proper English Usage

Lying on my desk since yesterday: Carmen Ebner’s PhD thesis, all shiny and new. It is the first proper book published in our research project. Congratulations, Carmen! And all the best with your defense on 5 September. You’ll do us proud, I’m certain of it.

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A postdating for the OED – with thanks to Kingsley Amis

What other words are there for stickler, pedant or pundit, Lonneke van Leest-Kootkar asked in a blogpost last year. Rebecca Gowers, in Horrible Words (2016), chose to use the word griper instead of stickler (a word I will always associate with Lynne Truss). But here is another one! It is an old one, possibly revived by Kingsley Amis, so on your guard, OED editors!

I’m analysing Amis’s letters to the editor for my book English usage guides: The biography of a genre (nearly done now!), and I found one from 23 February 1985, in which he refers to himself as “a spotter of popular catachreses”. My rusty knowledge of Greek wasn’t much help here, but the OED was: the word means “Improper use of words; application of a term to a thing which it does not properly denote; abuse or perversion of a trope or metaphor”.

And as an inveterate OED user, I checked the quotation dates: 1589 (Puttenham) to 1810 (Coleridge). Did Amis revive the word? Perhaps, but look at the warning in red: not yet fully (?) updated yet! So, OED editors, here is a really nice postdating of the word, thanks to Kingsley Amis.

And what I’d be interested in is the question whether he really did revive the word, or whether any quotations can be found to fill the gap between 1810 and 1985.

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We understood that to “decimate” meant to kill one in 10

This is a quotation from a new book, The Beast, by Alexander Starritt, due out on 7 September, and previewed in today’s Guardian by Ian Jack, about a fictionalised sub-editor on the Daily Mail. It might make entertaining reading!

The Beast by Alexander Starritt

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